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Formspring Tuesday: Why “virtual reality” will never catch on


Some of you might know that I cultivate and maintain a semi-active Formspring account, where I try to answer both queries about video games and humiliating questions about my personal life just as accurately and plainly as I can.

Recently somebody asked,

What happened to virtual reality? Remember the promise of a Sega Genesis and Atari Jaguar helmet in the mid-90s?

This is a great question! My reply is off-the-cuff, and now that I’ve written it I think I might like to expand on it later. But here is v1.0 anyway:

VR just gets turned into other stuff. Like, Second Life was actually supposed to be a type of VR, with the headset and haptic feedback and everything.

What it really comes down to is, people aren’t ready and willing to look that fucking stupid. And they never will be.

Did you ever see the “early adopter” on the airplane, watching his movie in his little hd widescreen movie spectacles? The year was like 2001ish, and that guy was a full-on dweebazoid. He takes a segway to work, and he’s happy because he’s living in the future, and I’m glad for him, but his eagerness to strap every type of laser to his body will never, ever be cool.

Similarly, I remember seeing a prototype for a type of wearable keyboard—it fit in the palm and it was really easy to learn to touch-type—in a magazine called ‘Shift.’ Boy, did they try to glam up that wearable keyboard, but there was no way. Attaching a computer to your body is not, will not be “cool.” The problem with VR is, if anyone catches you wearing a headset, you might as well close down that OKCupid profile.

I’m borrowing a lot of these points from an article I read—I don’t remember when or where—about the consistent lack of commercial success with all these repeated iterations of the “videophone.” Sure, times have changed since that article was written, insofar as Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangout are totally viable, but the truth is, I’m not going to take some random call when my hair is a nest and my face is splotchy, just like I’m not going to run down to answer the door.

Here’s an unhappy truth about technology: the real obstacle is vanity. Take elevators, for instance. There once was a hotel elevator, and it was too slow. The elevator’s inventor thought long and hard about how to speed up the elevator’s mechanisms. Do you know what he did instead? He put up a mirror. He hung a mirror right next to the sliding elevator doors, because people wouldn’t notice the subpar elevator technology. They’d be too busy looking at themselves.

One response to “Formspring Tuesday: Why “virtual reality” will never catch on” »

  1. Jbot says:

    If we ever get anything resembling virtual reality, it would probably have to come in the form of the holodeck from TNG; a private room where we don’t have to wear anything ridiculous and no one has to see the things we get up to if we don’t want them to.

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